Awkward situations happen all the time. That moment where you just want to hide or run and leave. If you witness awkward moments, you probably feel actual pain for everyone involved, sometimes including yourself. I bet you can think of your most recent awkward moment and instantly feel regret or shame.
When you realize you are in an awkward situation you have only three choices. You try to run from it, which rarely works. Fight it, which only makes things worse. Or you can learn to embrace it, work through it, and experience the freedom that is on the other side of it. Embrace the Awkward has become my life motto and it came to me in a moment of complete clarity and vulnerability.
I was speaking at a summer camp with 150 middle schoolers, being a youth pastor, I was really looking forward to it. But right out of the gate with my first session things weren’t going so well. I was struggling and when you are speaking to middle schoolers there is a lot of room for grace. And I remember freaking out thinking I had to speak 7 more times this week!
So, I just stopped and started to be real with them. I said, “Here is the bottom line. I want to be real with all of you this week and in order to do that we need to be real with ourselves and each other. So, here is what you need to realize being a middle schooler. I didn’t realize this until years later. In middle school you are either awkward, annoying, or both. Only those three. For me I was both. But the good news is that very few of you will remain that way. The sooner you come to terms with that reality, the more fun we can have. If you realize you don’t have to impress anyone to fit it, and we are all struggling to find ourselves, the more impact that this week will have on you.”
And that was the moment I had the whole room finally pay attention. I shared how I was as a middle schooler and my struggles, my embarrassing moments, and everything else. This set a completely new tone to the rest of the camp because after each of my talks I would have students share with me their most embarrassing stories. And many of these stories led to prayer requests and huge ministry opportunities.
Ever since that moment I realized that in ministry embracing awkward moments is a requirement. Anyone who has spent time with youth know just how many awkward moments you experience. You invite a students to an event and they tell you it “sounds lame,” you try to share a job only for silences in the audience, a parent asks why their student listens to you more than them and there is hundreds of more.
But for me the moment I threw out trying to fit in, be relevant, make it cool is the moment real ministry started happening. The youth ministry God gave me to led started experiencing a whole new level of vulnerability and community which led to numerical and spiritual growth. When we started living out the motto “Embrace the Awkward” is when everything changed. Outsiders were embraced not ignored. There was no social hierarchy or mass fear. When everyone knew and accepted, they were weird then no one had any reason to reject each other. Our ministry nights became a safe place for students to come and experience the love of Jesus on a weekly basis.
For many years Embrace the Awkward was the motto I did everything by, but now being a veteran youth worker (15+ years) my new focus has been on leadership development. I wanted to pass on tips and tricks to fellow youth workers to help them handle those awkward moments better.
So, after some encouragement from my wife Katie, I decided to start a podcast. I wanted an easy way to share my experience and hear from other people’s experiences. I didn’t want it to be a weekly sermon but rather a conversation so I thought who would be willing to do this crazy adventure with me. I wanted someone who was naturally awkward but just as passionate about youth as I was. Only one person ever came to mind. A fellow youth worker named DJ. DJ and I shared a few pranks with each other over the years and he just happened to be starting his first full time ministry position that year. I knew having someone experiencing everything for the first time would help keep a fresh and relevant perspective to the podcast.
So, for weeks I struggled with asking him because I thought it would be super awkward if he said no. It wasn’t until Katie just said “just call him” that I dialed him up and shared my idea. Without hesitation, he was on board. Was it awkward, sure, but like almost always if you embrace the awkward it leads to a new found freedom and joy.
That short conversation led to months of praying and planning and that eventually led to in the summer of 2020 a weekly podcast by youth workers and for youth influencers (anyone who influences youth: parents, teachers, pastors, and coaches). We have one simple goal in mind, to help people handle awkward situations better.
Veteran Youth Worker
Awkward and Annoying Since 1982
(The Top 5 is our quick list of resources, recommendations, or reasons that we feel you should know).
Finding ways to encourage students to bring their friends can be a constant struggle. There are a lot of different ways a youth ministry could do outreach and many are successful. With this post, however, we won’t be going into theology or how to create a culture that is having youth constantly bringing their unchurched friends. Rather it’s sharing five out-of-the-box ideas I have seen work in various ministries around the US. This list does not include events as I think that is a totally separate list. I am sure there is many more. Please leave a comment if you have any ideas we could add to this list?
ONE – Get on the fringe social media platforms
Are you or your youth ministry on SnapChat or TikTok… because your students and their friends are? 65% of SnapChat users are teenagers and Snapchat now has over 301 million active users a month. TikTok is getting even bigger with 450 million active users monthly (world wide). Posting on Instagram and other social media platforms is fine but if you want to reach a completely new audience go where the teenagers are heading. Yes, there are inappropriate things on SnapChat and TikTok so so do all other social media platforms. Going on these platforms are like going to their schools 20 years ago. It’s their world and sometimes it’s good to see a positive influence on it. Several youth workers have already jumped on board and one of the best ones I have seen on TikTok is @tejaymac. His #1minutemessages are a good way to spread the Word of Jesus in a new way.
Brady Shearer from Pro Church Tools has a great podcase explaining about what church’s need to know about TikTok CLICK HERE.
TWO – The High 5 Hoodie Drive
This is from a church called GracePoint.Youth. Basically it’s an attendance drive. Each student is challenged to bring 5 new friends to youth group during a certain period and if they do they earn a free hoodie. They share why they do it as from their motto “names not numbers” which means “we want to be an outward-focused youth group where students are always thinking of ways to help their friends meet, know, and follow Jesus.”
THREE – Walking S’mores Wagon
This was seen from a new church plant up in South Dakota. Renewal church walked around with wagons full of s’more stuff and little candles inviting people on the street to roast a marshmallow and then have a s’more. From the THIS VIDEO it seems like a very easy thing to do and who would pass up on making a s’more without getting all of their own camping gear out! A great way to meet people and hear their stories because roasting a marshmallow takes a few minutes which gives you an opportunity to share the gospel!
FOUR – Meet Offsite
Take your youth group to the streets! The summertime is a great time for you to switch things up. Basically, all you have to do is do your normal (or what you call normal) youth group but in a public space. Set up in a park or even in a parking lot of a busy intersection. Have lots of signs inviting people and program the night where people can stop by and join it at any time. Bring a small sound system with you and have worship, speaking, even some games. You will have to adjust a few things since you want it to be visual and inviting but it’s one of the easier ideas to pull off. I have seen this work several times at coffee shops or donut places.
FIVE – Go & Tell Ping Pong Drive
This was seen from a fellow youth worker Jared Menard. He would have each guest that comes to his youth group write their name on a ping pong ball and put it in a clear case. It’s a good visual to inspire his youth to pray and invite friends. It also helps with building an outreach culture in his group. Sometimes having a weekly reminder to invite sets an expectation that students rise to once reminded. Plus it’s a great way for new students to make their mark and feel special (being new is hard).
Looking for a podcast to deal with those awkward moments of ministry? I (Kyle) has partnered with another youth worker DJ Toelle (also a contributor to this blog) to bring about some helpful hints and tips each week so we all can HANDLE AWKWARD BETTER. It’s a brand new adventure for both of us so we are pretty excited to see what God has in store for this. If you have an awkward topic that you would like to discuss just contact us on Instagram @theetapodcast, join our Facebook Group or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find the podcast on all the major services or CLICK HERE.
Episode 3: Wowing Your Leaders
Your leaders are the lifeblood of your ministry. Caring well for your leaders, physically and spiritually, can only impact your ministry positively. In this episode, Kyle and DJ give some practical tips and advice that can be integrated in to your ministry easily!
Episode 2: Keep Your Programming Weird
Kyle and DJ talk about programming, why it’s important to your ministry, and give some practical ideas to keep things weird!
Episode 1: Dating As A Youth Worker
In this episode, Kyle and DJ discuss one of the most awkward things in youth ministry. Dating as Youth Worker. Your relationship is an example for your students, and they are watching.
Episode 0: Here’s What You Need to Know
How this whole thing got started…